Teddy bears are among the most cuddled and beloved of childhood companions, but they are relatively new in the world of toys. The story of their U.S. origins is probably the most famous. When President Theodore "Teddy" Roosevelt failed to make a kill on a hunting trip in November of 1902, his companions caught a bear cub and tied it to a tree to give him an easy target. The President would not fire. Instead, he declared, "Spare the bear! I will not shoot a tethered animal."

Washington Post artist Clifford K. Berryman immortalized the scene when he drew it in a political cartoon for the paper called "Drawing the Line in Mississippi." That month, Brooklyn store owners Morris and Rose Michtom made a stuffed bear doll, called "Teddy's Bear," and placed it in their display window with the cartoon. The bear was a sensation, prompting the Michtoms to found the Ideal Novelty and Toy Company.

Meanwhile, around the same time in Germany, Richard Steiff created a soft toy bear for his aunt, Margarete Steiff, who owned a big toy factory. Steiff's idea for the bear, called a Bar 55PB, came from his drawings of the animals at the Stuttgart Zoo. An American wholesaler, George Borgfeldt, discovered it at the Leipzig Toy Fair in 1903, and promptly ordered 3,000 of them. By World War I, Steiff had sold millions of these toys in the United States, Germany, and England.

Steiff bears made between 1903 and 1905 are the most-sought after. They feature hump backs, long snouts, long arms with curved paws, and big tapered feet—after 1905, the trademark Steiff button was sewn into their ears. The earliest Ideal teddy bears, which are also highly valued, look very different; they have triangular faces, chubby bodies, and long straight limbs.

The heyday of teddy bears was between 1906 and 1908, during Roosevelt's second term. Along with regular bears, manufacturers produced novelty models, like the 1907 Laughing Roosevelt Bear by the Columbia Teddy Bear Company, which featured the president's large teeth. The 1917 Patriotic Bear, made during World War I, was red, white, and blue and had electric light bulbs for eyes.

Before World War II, many new teddy-bear makers got their start. In Germany, Bing made mechanical bears while Schuco focused on miniature bears. Hermann bears from this period are also highly regarded. In Great Britain, Dean's started making bear toys in 1915, while Merrythought got into the business in 1930. J.K. Farnell made the original "Winnie the Pooh" bought for Christopher Robin in 1921.

Other early-century teddy-bear makers include Harwin & Co., Chad Valley, William J. Terry and Chiltern in England; Knickerbocker, Bruin, Aetna, and Gund in the United States; and...

After the war, the U.S. market was overwhelmed with cheap plush toys from Asian factories. By the end of the '60s, the traditional teddy bear seemed to be on the verge of extinction. But when teddy bear collector Peter Bull published his 1969 book on his obsession, interest in old-fashioned bears surged. Christie's hosted the first auction devoted to antique and vintage teddy bears in 1985, the same year the Teddy Bear Artists Guild was founded in the United States.

Thanks to the interest in old-fashioned teddy bears, there are a lot of deliberate fakes on the market. They often incorporate elements of the old teddy bears, including long arms, back humps, and straw stuffing, but in the wrong combinations, and appear suspiciously dirty. Knowing the features of antique bears can help you identify the fakes.

For example, vintage teddy bears were most often made out of wool mohair. Silk plush bears were introduced around 1930, but cotton plush wasn't used until after World War II and synthetics didn’t appear until the 1950s. The earliest bears have boot-button eyes. In the 1920s, glass eyes became the most common, while in the 1950s eyes were made of plastic. Each manufacturer had its own unique nose stitching—early noses were stitched out of woven silk.

The oldest antique teddy bears are hard-stuffed with excelsior, also known as wood wool. If a vintage bear is lightweight, it was probably stuffed with fibers from the kapok tree. Bears filled with foam are newer. As for the paws, the ones on vintage bears had pads made of felt or cotton, although the cotton would have worn out and been replaced by now. Velvet and rexine (a fake leather) were also used for paw pads starting in the late 1930s.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Dollreference.com

Dollreference.com

This densely packed index of antique and vintage dolls claims to offer over 10,000 images of dolls from the 1800s … [read review or visit site]

National Carousel Association

National Carousel Association

Since 1973, the National Carousel Association has been dedicated to preserving and restoring carousels and carousel… [read review or visit site]

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Vintage Dolls of the 50s

Rhonda Wilson's collection of 1950s dolls, organized by name (Ginny and friends, Littlest Angel and friends, etc.) … [read review or visit site]

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylees Korner of Collectible Dolls

Kaylee's extensive collection of vintage dolls from the 1930s to 90s. Click the balloons to browse. Though Kaylee s… [read review or visit site]

Museum of Childhood

Museum of Childhood

Embrace your inner child on this website from the Victoria and Albert Museum, filled with high-quality images and i… [read review or visit site]



Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Charlie Bear Anniversary Symphony Gorgeous Limited EditionAntique Old Early German Growler Mohair Teddy Bear, 1910s-1920s, 14 1/2"Antique C1906 Steiff Rare Brown W/excellent Mohair Teddy Bear W/shoebutton EyesEarly Steiff Brown Mohair Teddy Bear Tiny Silver Tone Ear Button 9" JointedVintage Stier Bears By Kathleen Wallace Jointed Mohair Teddy Bear - SignedVintage Old Chiltern Hugmee Mohair Teddy Bear, Rexine Pads, 1950s, 19"Rare Antique Old Early Chad Valley Character Teddy Bear With Button, 1920s, 21"Old Vintage Antique Jointed Teddy Bear 7.5" Glass Eyes Wood Straw Fill MiniatureAntique Bear Straw Filled Steiff? Old Bear Brown Bear Antique Toy Bear Old ToyVintage Steiff 1.5" Finch Bird Silver Button Pompom Woolie Toy Doll Bear 6504,43Vintage Steiff Easter Chick Bird Pom Pom Woolie Toy Silver Button 1504,41 BearAntique BearAntique American Golden Mohair Teddy Bear 19.5” TallAntique 12 1/2” Mohair Bear Old Vintage Antique 8" Jointed Teddy Bear - Firm Wood Straw Filled - Glass EyesLot Of 2 Steiff Little Foo Panda Keyring Ean 667688 With Tags - GermanyCharlie Bears Isabelle Collection Mohair Bear EmmelineRare Care Bear Cousins "treat Heart Pig" American Greetings Beanie Plush With Ta" True Heart Care Bear" 20th Anniversary Beanie Plush With TagsI'm In Love! 24" 1985 Steiff Mohair Teddy Bear Rare ? Western Germany SignedSteiff Bear DanteSteiff Original Teddy Bear 10 Inch Brown Bear W/ TagsAdorable Antique English Or American Mohair Teddy Bear 30s/50s *"daydream" Care Bear 20th Anniversary Beanie Plush With TagsMinature Paddington Bear With Marmite Bag Charlie Bears Isabelle Lee 2010 Collection Mohair Bear EilishVintage German Steiff Standing Browny Teddy Bear Button In Ear Id Number 1445/12Vintage Miniature Schuco Jointed Mohair Panda Piccolo Teddy Bear Metal EyesHermann Teddy Bear (rm3)A Whole Lot Of Muffy! Muffy Bear And Friends, Clothes Too!1998 Boxed Set Muffy Vanderbear 5th Club Edition Little Miss Muffy Teddy BearVogue Dolls Hi, I'm Ginny With Teddy Bear. Free Stand Included! Fast Shipping!Wee Whittles Robert Raikes Dottie Bear Limited Edition 156/500Muffy Vanderbear Wear Outfits For The Best-dressed Bears: Picnic, Xmas Carol+100% Complete With Tutu And Teddy Bear Euc Polly Pocket Partytime Surprise 1989Limited Edition Russ 100% Mohair Collection 12" Cornelia Bear W/ Coa Hermann Christmas Ornaments Bear. Melchior Limited Edition. With Tags. Dean's Rag Book Bear Mohair Limited EdtionMerrythought Teddy Bear 14" Jointed Golden Mohair Made In England2 Bad Taste Bears Plug & Outlet, Retired, Resin, Excellent Condition, UsedDoll Clothes Handmade Three Piece Blue Velour Teddy Bear Outfit 16"-18" DollDoll Clothes Handmade Three Piece Pink Velour Teddy Bear Outfit 16"-18" DollBad Taste Bears Rare Keychain Hannibal Lector Collectible Figurine Nip2004 Rare Limited Edition Steiff Teddy Bear Embroidered Flowers In Box W/ PapersVintage Steiff Teddy Bear Instant Collection 6 Mohair Bears 80's Estate Charlie Bears Isabelle Collection Mohair KnickerbockerCharlie Bears Isabele Lee Mohair Bear EarlMidnight Minimo By Charlie Bears Bitsy Minimo By Charlie Bears Steiff Mr Bones Halloween Glow In The Dark Ltd Edition 2004 With Bag CertificateCharlie Bears Terry Gorgeous Plush Brand New BearSteiff Pumpkin Patch Bear Four Seasons-fall 1997Charlie Bear Huey 13.5 Inch Designed By Isabelle Lee 2011, Retired. Cherry Minimo By Charlie Bears Mojito Minimo By Charlie Bears Steiff Owl From Classic Pooh Series By Disney 2001 Ean 651793 LeSteiff Daisy Loves Me Loves Me Not Teddy Bear Ean 666377 Mohair 16 Inches (40cm)Steiff Mungo Mohair Meerkat Ean 071249 Mint/rare Steiff Polar Bear Ornament 667107, 12 Cm/5" Limited Edition 2003Charlie Bears Weeny Mohair Bear Limited Edition From Minimo Collection